Israelis Gather on Hillsides to Watch and Cheer
as Military Drops Bombs on Gaza
People drink, snack and pose for selfies against a background of explosions as Palestinian death toll mounts in ongoing offensive
By Harriet Sherwood in Sderot
July 20, 2014 "ICH" - "The Guardian" - As the sun begins to sink over the Mediterranean, groups of Israelis gather each evening on hilltops close to the Gaza border to cheer, whoop and whistle as bombs rain down on people in a hellish warzone a few miles away.
Old sofas, garden chairs, battered car seats and upturned crates provide seating for the spectators. On one hilltop, a swing has been attached to the branches of a pine tree, allowing its occupant to sway gently in the breeze. Some bring bottles of beer or soft drinks and snacks.
On Saturday, a group of men huddle around a shisha pipe. Nearly all hold up smartphones to record the explosions or to pose grinning, perhaps with thumbs up, for selfies against a backdrop of black smoke.
Despite reports that millions of Israelis are living in terror of Hamas rockets, they don't deter these hilltop war watchers whose proximity to Gaza puts them within range of the most rudimentary missiles. Some bring their children.
In the border town of Sderot, which has been struck by countless missiles from the Gaza Strip in recent years, one family gathers on a top-floor balcony, draped with an Israeli flag and banner of the army's legendary Golani Brigade. A house with a war view may even command a premium price these days.
An atmosphere of anticipatory excitement grows as dusk falls, in the expectation that Hamas militants will increase rocket fire after breaking their Ramadan fast, and the Israeli military will respond with force.
The thud of shellfire, flash of an explosion and pall of smoke are greeted with exclamations of approval. "What a beauty," says one appreciative spectator.
Shimrit Peretz, 19, has come with her off-duty soldier boyfriend, Raz Sason, whose army-issue assault rifle is slung across his shoulders.
"We come to look at the bombing," Peretz says, adding that this is their fourth visit to the hilltop. They plan to stay several hours: "It's interesting." The pair have brought a backpack filled with bottles of water and bags of crisps.
Peretz says that she doesn't worry about the Palestinian civilians caught in the bombing; Sason disagrees. Despite his concern for the innocents caught in the assault, the young conscript soldier wishes he was with his comrades across the border in Gaza. "I'd like to be going in, to help my country and help the soldiers inside," he says.
Given the dramatic views, media crews are coming to the area to cover the fighting. On a nearby hilltop, an ugly scene develops as a group of Israeli men threaten a photographer, accusing him of being a "leftist". We are warned against asking for interviews, as another cheer goes up.